Summer always seems to fly by, but it’s the perfect opportunity for troop travel! As an Extended Travel Learning Facilitator, I love sharing the training required to help girls and other adults travel safely through Girl Scout events at all levels. These include the chance for girls to travel independently through troop travel, council trips, and the Destinations program. The type of travel they choose is dependent on what age appropriate travel skills they have at the time, and they continue to develop as girls progress through Girl Scouts. Early travel includes going on field trips (including to new meeting locations and council and service unit events) for Daisies and Brownies, weekend events or camporees as Juniors, eventually leading up to three night or longer domestic and international trips as Cadettes, Seniors, and Ambassadors.
Save it for later!
This summer I had the pleasure of traveling on a council trip to Panama with a group of five girls and two other adults from Northern California. We were paired up with another group from Pennsylvania, and everyone became quick friends all around. Our two groups had the honor of being the first Girl Scout troops to do this particular tour through EF Tours for Girl Scouts, and we would all highly recommend it. With that in mind, I’m here to share my travel expertise, so you and your girls can start planning a Girl Scout travel adventure they’ll never forget!
Start Planning Your Trip
The “roadmaps” we share provide ways to help girls explore different paths, while building the skills to help them develop into world travelers. If you’re starting to plan a trip with your troop, here are the five things to keep in mind:
1. Make sure at least one adult on the trip has taken the Extended Travel Training.
This is required by council to take girls traveling, and I highly recommend having two or more adults on the trip take this training, in case the group ever needed to split up.
2. Keep it girl-led.
Girls should be making all the decisions on where they want to go and what they want to do, as you assist with logistics depending on their age level. If someone else plans it for them they are less likely to participate.
3. Everyone should pitch in.
Anyone involved with the trip should be actively participating in any money-earning activities set up by the group to fund the trip—that way everyone feels equally responsible and happy with the outcome.
4. See if you can include a service project!
You weave the Girl Scout Law into all your activities, so why not travel? Make sure to ask someone before you go to help identify an actual need, not something your girls might perceive as a problem, but is just a normal cultural difference. You don’t want to compound an issue by providing things or trying to “fix” something that is not necessary or could be culturally insensitive.
5. Decide if your troop will be planning the trip themselves, using a tour company, or a combination of the two.
Regardless of the way the trip is planned, every traveler should be aware of where they are going, how they are getting there, what they will be doing, and why the places and things they will be seeing and doing are important to those who live where you are visiting.
The next big question your girls have to answer: “Troop-planned trip or a tour company package?” They both have their pros and cons, so here are some key differences between the two to help them decide.
When girls work together to decide where they want to go, the resulting experience can be very meaningful. Working to discover new places to explore, figuring out what they will be doing, and coming up with ways to help them pay for the adventure are all life-long skills they can develop together. The planning process builds skills like decision making, team building, money earning, and self-sufficiency, all of which will serve them well throughout their lives. By the time they are ready to depart on their trip, they’ll have already mastered some of the skills that will make their adventure a success.
From the time they were Brownies, my troop would talk about the places they wanted to go when they got older. We had an older troop in our service unit that would come and share the stories of their adventures with us. The question my girls would always ask in the spring was “do we get to start planning a trip next year?” Both of my troops ended up doing three big trips, starting with trips to Disneyland and ending with 10–12 day trips to England and Scotland. The adventures they had together helped prepare them for their future, making them more confident on trips they took with their families and when studying abroad in college.
One of the girls in my younger troop had been a part of the planning process for our trip to England all through her junior year in high school, but was unable to attend when her family was transferred to Singapore that spring. We heard later from her mom that she had taken all the skills she had learned while helping plan our trip and used them to plan a vacation to explore the areas around their new home. You never know when a skill or lesson learned in Girl Scouting is going to come in handy.
Pro Tip: Making big decisions as a group can be daunting, but we’ve got plenty of tips to reach consensus.
Tour Company Packages
Traveling with a tour company is becoming increasingly popular with troops. Girls (and volunteers) are so busy with work, school, sports, award projects, and more, that they just don’t have the time to sit down together and plan all the aspects of their trip. Using a tour company to set and confirm your plans is a convenient way to make a trip happen. All the girls need to do is agree on one or two preset tours, then decide on which one they want to do based on what that tour has to offer. These tours are often a blast, but the girls won’t get to pick exactly what they see and do, especially as your troop may not be the only group on the tour.
Our council trips have been set up using EF Tours for Girl Scouts, an approved GSUSA vendor. The Panama trip was our twelfth trip with them. Four of the five girls who went on this trip are repeat travelers who have learned a lot about group travel through these experiences. To make sure girls get the most out of their trip, it’s important to still do research even though the trip is already pre-planned. I present the girls with what I call our “Resident Expert” program, where I take all the things on our itinerary and divide them by the number of girls going on the trip. They have to research their topics and be ready to present the information to the group, BEFORE our tour director does. This gives them the opportunity to understand why these places and things are important to the people who live there, and what significance they have to the culture and history. Plus, presenting the information gives them an opportunity to see what it is like to be a tour director, providing them with some fun career exploration. There have been a few instances on tours where the girls have stumped the tour director with information they have discovered, so now they try to look deeper for information that is not commonly known to share with the group. (There are special treats for those who can!)
As with any Girl Scout activity, we always reflect on our trips at the airport on the way home. It’s a great way to recap the adventure while the memories are still fresh and the rush of returning to “normal life” hasn’t taken hold yet. I have found the best way to wrap up a trip is listening to what the girls have to say about a trip, both the good and not so good. Once we have completed out evaluation I always leave them with one final question: “The world is open. Where do you want to go next?”
What to do next:
- Looking for more travel resources for your troop’s next Girl Scout adventure? Check out our other travel planning articles on The Trailhead.
- Browse GSNorCal’s upcoming council trips to see if any of them catch your girl’s eye, or see what tours our vendor EF Tours have to offer!
- Visit Volunteer Essentials for more information on letting girls take the lead while travelling.
- Share the story of your adventures for a chance to be featured on our blog, social media, website, or other publications! Where have your girls been, or where are you planning to go this year?
Sandy Norman—Sandy has been a Girl Scout since 5th grade, during which she lived in Naples, Italy. She has been an Extended Troop Travel learning facilitator for 18 years and has loved helping other leaders learn how to travel with their troops! Sandy has also been leading council trips since 2010 and enjoys sharing her travel knowledge with GSNorCal girls and adults.
Thanks Sandy! We just started a travel troop in Vacaville and are planning a trip to Alaska for next summer. Very helpful to hear your tips as we work with the girls to plan this very exciting adventure!
That sounds like a lot of fun. That is one state I have not been to yet. I hope you will share your planning experiences and details of your trip after you get back.
Thanks for these great details and inspirations Sandy! I wonder, are there other approved vendors for Tour Companies besides EF Tours? How do I find that out?
Since GSUSA uses Alpine Training Services (ATS) and Outward Bound for some of the Destinations events so I would imagine they are both approved vendors. Another company that has sent me information is Explorica. They have been a vendor at national conventions before so I assume they are also vetted by GSUSA.
Let me know if I can answer any questions.
As an experienced Travel Troop Leader, I only do trips the girls plan. Of course as a leader I have had a personal travel progression well before I ever take girls any where. I find girl-planned trips are Girl led and as such both the girls and you get so much more out of the experience.
Hi Andrea, I totally agree with you that “girl planned” trips are the best way to go. Everyone is working together to make sure they all get the most from their adventure.
I have been leading these council trips since 2010 and have had many girls participate on them. One thing I can guarantee is that even though the itineraries were set for us, that didn’t let the girls out of their responsibilities to investigate where we were going, what we were doing and why those places/things were important to the people of the countries we visited.
About four months before we leave I take our itinerary and divide the places we are going and things we will be seeing and doing by the number of girls who will be traveling on the trip. I also ask them to learn how to say “please” and “thank you”, “how much is…” and a few other phases to help them along the way. They are responsible for presenting information on their assigned topics to our group before our tour director does. This gives the girls an opportunity to investigate their topic and try out the “role” of tour director. There have been a few times where girls have presented information that our tour director was unaware of, leading to some fun on the spot conversations.
One of the main things that I have learned from doing this is that there are so many more resources available to us now to help make trip planning a lot easier than when I was traveling with my daughters’ troops. Whether your trip is completely girl planned or arranged, the best thing we can do for a girls is make sure they are prepared for where they are going, what they will see and why those things are important to the people of the places you visit.
I hope wherever your girls travel they have an amazing experience and will share it with others to help spark the interest.